I will no doubt be heckled for this, but I’ve never had a problem with Halloween. Sure, after nearly four decades, trick-or-treating has gotten old, and the idea of dragging my kids around at night while they fill their bags with sugar I don’t even want them eating has lost its luster.
But I remember Halloween growing up in the 80s as a really fun time. I frequently came up with my own costumes, and it was a chance to really exercise the old creative arts. One of my favorites was this one, which I concocted after seeing a pretty amusing costumed rendition of Herman’s Hermits’ Henry VIII I Am on an episode of the Smothers Brothers variety show:
I must have been twelve or thirteen at the time. I can’t tell you how much extra candy I got that year – for me and “my friend.” (People really thought I had found some mensch to carry me around all night!) I also won a costume contest in a local parade, winning a whopping $5.00 McDonald’s gift certificate for my trouble.
When I was a kid, people didn’t treat Halloween as a national holiday. They didn’t start decorating a month in advance, build remote-controlled graveyards in their front lawns, or concoct elaborate motion-activated chainsaw-massacre scenes to scare the little ones half to death. Like most things in the era of Ronald Reagan, it was a simpler, more innocent time. But every Catholic I knew went out on Halloween night — and always after dark; none of the namby-pamby daylight nonsense — with nary an All Saints’ party in sight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, I have long looked askance at the growing Catholic suspicion of Halloween. It all seems a little too puritanical to my tastes, which run more to the sort of sacramentality of tangible delight one finds in Babette’s Feast or even Big Night.
So I found it very interesting when I came across this article by About.com Catholicism “expert” Scott Richert, which says that the anti-Halloween crusade comes to us not from history, but from from anti-history, and from a distinctly anti-Catholic source, at that.
What would you think if I told you that the Catholic Church invented Islam, communism, and freemasonry, in order to undermine the faith of true Christians? That the holocaust was a Vatican plot, and Hitler merely the pawn of Pope Pius XII? That Catholics do not worship Christ and venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but instead worship the reincarnated Nimrod, founder of Babylon, and his wife (and mother!) Semiramis?
That, as early as 1980, the Vatican had a supercomputer containing the names of every Protestant Christian in the world, designed to make it easier to round them all up in a future persecution carried out by the Catholic Church, headed up by the Antichrist, otherwise known as the Pope?
In all likelihood, you would (at best) laugh at these ridiculous ideas, and probably dismiss me as a raving anti-Catholic. Certainly, you wouldn’t accept my claims as the gospel truth.
What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?
But what if I told you that every year, dozens of children are kidnapped and murdered by Satanists on Halloween?
That scores more are injured or killed when they eat candy laced with poison or shards of glass? That every year on October 31, modern-day witches follow in the footsteps of ancient Druids by celebrating demonic rituals, including human sacrifice?
Some of you are now likely nodding your head in agreement. After all, you’ve heard these claims for years, and where there’s smoke, there must be hellfire, right?
Jack Chick Thinks He Knows
But what if I told you that, over the past 30-plus years, one man has worked tirelessly to advance both sets of claims, and that his attacks on Halloween have as much truth to them as his attacks on the Catholic Church? And that, indeed, his attacks on Halloween are not separate from, but very much a part of, his anti-Catholicism?
That man’s name is Jack T. Chick, the owner of Chick Publications, the world’s largest publisher of fundamentalist tracts—three quarters of a billion since 1960. Since 1980, he has made it his life’s mission to subvert and undermine the Catholic Church.
And in 1986, he opened a new front in that battle by focusing his attacks on the vigil of All Saints Day, better known as Halloween.
Anyone who has seen a Jack Chick publication knows just how howl-inducingly awful they are. (My personal favorite has always been the one about the Eucharist as diabolical “Death Cookie.“) What I did not know is just how much those little Chick comics contributed to not just the idea that Halloween was an essentially evil pagan holiday, but even things like poisoned candy or razor blades in apples. Richert continues:
I was in junior high school the year that I returned from home from trick-or-treating to find, hidden among the Butterfingers (my favorite) and Skittles (a candy I could do without), a little comic book that patiently explained why Catholics were not Christians. It was my first Jack Chick tract, but it would be far from my last.
Mixed in with all of this is an unhealthy dose of ideas drawn from a pamphlet published in 1853 (and later expanded to book length) by the Rev. Alexander Hislop, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. The Two Babylons: Or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife argues that Roman Catholicism is actually a form of paganism—specifically, a Babylonian mystery cult. According to Hislop, the Christ that Catholics worship is not the same as the Christ other Christians worship, but the reincarnated Nimrod, founder of Babylon, and the Virgin Mary whom Catholic venerate is really the Babylonian deity Semiramis, worshiped in Egypt as Isis, in Greece as Athena, and in Rome as Venus and Diana. True Christianity, according to Hislop, was subverted by pagan worship during the reign of Constantine the Great, and did not reemerge again until the late Middle Ages, and was not fully restored until the Protestant Reformation.
In a similar vein, Hislop argued that the Catholic veneration of the saints, particularly on All Saints Day, and the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (emphasized strongly in the month of November, beginning on November 2, All Souls Day), is a modified form of Babylonian worship of the dead.
Given Chick’s reliance on The Two Babylons, it should have come as no surprise when, in 1986, his series of anti-Catholic tracts culminated in his first attack on Halloween, in his 1986 tract The Trick.
Witchcraft, Human Sacrifice, Poisoned Candy, and Spells
By the mid-1980’s, many parents had become concerned for the safety of their children on Halloween. The rise of the subgenre of horror movies known as “slasher films,” such as the Halloween and Friday the 13thfranchises, combined with stories of serial killers such as Chicago’s “Killer Clown,” John Wayne Gacy, in the popular imagination. Scattered reports of candy laced with drugs or poison, and caramel apples embedded with shards of glass, never very widespread and entirely debunked by 2002 (see Is Halloween Candy Tampering a Myth?), led parents to inspect the goodies that the neighbors they saw every day had given to their children on Halloween night.
The Trick capitalized on this unease to advance Chick’s attack on Halloween. A coven of witches is shown tampering with Halloween candy and performing incantations over it, leading, on Halloween, to the death of children and frightening changes in the behavior of others. Even though the children have been warned by their parents only to visit the houses of people they know, one of those kindly neighbors turns out to be a witch, proving that there is no way to ensure the physical and spiritual safety of any child who celebrates Halloween. Only when an ex-witch exposes Halloween as a “holy day” created by Satan to allow a worldwide conspiracy of witches to “provide additional sacrifices to him” is the kindly but evil neighbor’s plot foiled, as the parents of the affected children accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and then convince their children to do so also.
The Druids Are Coming!
The worldwide conspiracy, however, is nothing new; according to Chick, who, in The Trick, cites Hislop’s Two Babylons as his source, Halloween was first celebrated by the Druids, who offered children as human sacrifices on Halloween night:
When [a Druid] went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druid’s treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons that night. When some unfortunate couldn’t meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that home.
In other Chick tracts, similar accounts of Druidic celebration of Halloween are offered, and the jack-o’-lantern is specifically identified as a carved pumpkin.
Of course, as I’ve shown in Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?, Halloween—that is, the vigil or eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day, was first celebrated in the eighth century A.D., approximately 400 years after the Celts had abandoned druidism for Christianity. And the pumpkin, which is native to North American, was not imported to the British Isles until over a millennium after the conversion of the Celts to Christianity. Indeed, as David Emery, the Expert at About Urban Legends points out in Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?, both the name and the custom of the jack-o’-lantern date from the 17th century, and it was commonly associated with Catholic beliefs and practices:
For Catholic children it was customary to carry jack-o’-lanterns door-to-door to represent the souls of the dead while begging for soul cakes on Hallowmas (All Saints Day, Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).
Irish Catholic immigrants to North America celebrated Halloween by carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating, and, just as their Puritan ancestors had in England, Protestants of English descent in the American Northeast banned the celebration of Halloween (and of Christmas) not out of concerns over witchcraft and the “Devil’s Night,” but explicitly in opposition to Catholic practice. By the late 19th century, those bans had been dropped, and both Halloween and Christmas had been adopted by Protestant Christians of all stripes in the United States, but by the late 1980’s Jack Chick had succeeded in reviving the earlier anti-Catholic attack on Halloween.
There’s a lot of history in the article, and it brings up facts I’d never heard or considered. And while it’s certainly true that occultists have tried to make the most of Halloween — especially in recent years — it’s not a holiday that belongs to them. Richert’s conclusion is, therefore, entirely reasonable:
Is Halloween Evil? Consider the Source of the Claim
Yet the damage has been done, and a whole new generation of Christians, including many Catholics, have been indoctrinated in lies about Halloween spread by a man who believes that Catholics aren’t Christians; that Catholics worship Babylonian deities, and not Jesus Christ; and that the Catholic Church created Islam, communism, and Masonry to subvert true Christianity, and raised up Hitler to commit genocide against the Jews.
Catholic children do not need to celebrate Halloween to be good Catholics, though they should understand the true origins of Halloween as the vigil of All Saints Day. But if you’re contemplating keeping your children at home on Halloween while others are enjoying a night of innocent fun because you’ve been told that Halloween is the “Devil’s Night,” I can offer only this advice: Consider the source.
Whether you like the idea of Halloween or not, this is an article worth reading.
Originally published on Oct 31, 2015.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.